Swooning at Shaya

While I realize that everyone and their brother’s mother are waxing poetic about Shaya, I just can’t help jumping on the bandwagon. After all, Alon Shaya was awarded the 2015 James Beard for Best Chef: South and he is the undeniably creative force behind one of Downtown New Orleans’ most popular restaurants Domenica. So I’m getting on the praise train, not only for the above reasons, but also because Shaya is next in line on my (pitifully delayed) blogging schedule and because the restaurant is, without a doubt, fabulous.  Continue reading

Insight at Asuka Sushi & Hibachi

A lot of folk claim there is one type of food that they know they could eat every day for the rest of their life. For me, that food was sushi. Since my first taste of salmon nigiri in a tiny, Japanese restaurant off 19th Avenue in San Francisco almost 20 years ago, I was hooked. My friends and I used to hit up Fuji Sukiyaki in San Mateo where we would literally gorge ourselves on the special rolls — from a simple Crunchy Roll to a Dragon Roll and everything in between. (*Note: Remind me to tell you about the time my friend Wilson was dared into eating a huge wad of wasabi.)

When I came to New Orleans and met John, I took him out for his first taste of sushi and he loved it as much, if not more, than I did. It got to the point where if we ever went out for lunch or dinner, more often than not, we’d end up at a sushi joint.

A few months back, John and I realized that it had been months since we indulged in our favorite food, so we went out to try one of the newest Japanese restaurants in our area, Asuka Sushi & Hibachi.  You know that weird triangle between Short Street and Fern on Earhart Blvd., the one with a jeep that looks like it crash-landed into a fake palm tree? That’s where you’ll find Asuka, right in front of the Daiquiri Island Sports Bar. 
When we arrived, the restaurant was empty and kind of dark, but a server quickly came out from the kitchen and offered us a seat at one of the booths. We browsed the menu, ordered several items and sipped iced green tea while we waited.
Since we only ordered rolls and nigiri, everything came out at once. We got a Crazy Roll with tempura shrimp, spicy tuna, avocado and masago (roe) in a soybean wrap and topped with eel sauce, and a Louisiana Roll (the whole thing was battered and fried) with tempura shrimp, snow crab, crawfish, avocado, masago and cream cheese topped with their own “special sauce.” We also got a Crunchy Roll, a Tuna Avocado Roll and Tuna Tataki Nigiri.
Now don’t get me wrong, all of the rolls were delicious and for people who love the big, extravagant, Westernized rolls, they were perfect. But, when it came down to it, John and I enjoyed the Tuna Tataki the most, just simple, seared tuna with green onion and ponzu sauce. Perhaps it was because our palates had developed since our last sushi extravaganza, but the big showy rolls no longer held any fascination for us. In fact, they all started to taste the same. 
In our subsequent sushi adventures, we’ve stuck to simple rolls (like tuna and avocado), nigiri and sashimi, enjoying them as much as we did the elaborate rolls. Why mess with a good thing? We have Asuka to thank for that revelation.

Asuka Sushi & Hibachi on Urbanspoon

Oodles of food at Noodle & Pie

I always miss the good stuff. For example, I used to frequent the Circle Bar almost daily and every time I would come in, the bartender would inevitably announce that I just missed some celebrity. “You just missed James Gandolfini!” or “Sean Penn was here less than an hour ago!” or my favorite “Where the hell were you? You will not believe this but Hunter S. Thompson was sitting at the bar.” I can’t tell you the number of times I have caught people oohing and ahhing over something that just happens to disappear as soon as I look. “Oh! You just missed it!” Being a day late and a dollar short, as they say, should be my motto. The same thing happened when Noodle & Pie was popping up at Coulis on Prytania. Just when I was able to get down there and experience the grub, it disappeared.

Luckily for me, Noodle & Pie found permanent digs and shortly after it opened, John and I headed over to try out the fabled deliciousness that I had heard so much about. We showed up on the corner of State and Magazine Street shortly after the restaurant opened, only to find that several other folks were as anxious as I to get a taste. There were already four tables filled when we walked in, but we were still able to score a two-top near a window, so we could shoot some decent food porn.
I admit, my anxiousness (and hunger) caused me to order at least a fourth of the menu, starting with a slew of small plates and a couple of house-made “shrub” sodas. I chose the Thai-Chili Watermelon and John opted for the Beet special. Shrubs are basically fruit and herb-infused drinking vinegars and soda. Although I liked both, I enjoyed John’s more as it wasn’t quite as tart. 
The appetizers started pouring out of the open kitchen, starting with King Oyster Mushrooms with pink peppercorn and garlic. As delicious as each skewered morsel may have been, we were kind of shocked to pay a whopping $5 for what couldn’t have been more than half of one mushroom. The following dish was equally shocking, a Chilled Duck Breast with basil, shiso leaf (almost like parsley or mint), peach jam and mizuna (mustard green). It was a wonderful dish and we ate every bite, even down to getting all the jam with our fingers, but there was hardly anything there…three or four bites tops. Maybe I am a fat American who expects larger portion sizes or maybe, just maybe, that was not $7 worth of duck. Or it could be a little bit of both? 
Still rather ravenous, we were pleased to see that the next dish was a large plate filled with Shrimp Cracker Fries and a Sriracha aioli dipping sauce. We dove into it with abandon. The fries were crisp, salty and neither of us could get enough of the aioli. We munched on these throughout the course of the evening and it seemed the plate would never empty. 
The next dish was a Thai Spicy Green Papaya Salad that was far spicier than we anticipated, but we both love the heat, so that’s okay. It was loaded with crab claw meat piled atop green beans, peanuts, crunchy sticks of papaya, fresh tomato and drizzled with fish sauce. As we were gobbling the salad, the finest dish of the evening (both John and I agree) arrived, a Claypot Pork Belly with rice and salt-cured duck egg yolk. So mouthwatering, so scrumptious and decadent was this dish that I recommended it to the couple who sat down next to us mid-meal, much to John’s embarrassment. 
At last the ramen arrived.  John got the special of the day, a Crab Noodle Bowl with a seafood broth, a ton of crab claw meat, mushrooms, nori, fish cake, green onions, a soft boiled egg and hand-rolled, wheat ramen noodles. I chose the “House Bowl” with smoked hen broth, slow-cooked pork shoulder, soft boiled egg, shredded nori, mushroom, fish cake and noodles. Both were quite tasty, but I think John preferred my bowl because his chopsticks kept creeping over and stealing pieces of pork. 
You can’t go to Noodle & Pie without ordering pie, and you know I can’t go out to eat without ordering dessert, so we selected  a slice of S’More Pie with graham cracker crust, chocolate chunks and marshmallow whipped cream on top. It was a fabulous pie, even though I really wanted to try the mythical Honey & Pine Nut Pie so many folks had told me about. Oh well, I guess I have to go back! 
Noodle & Pie on Urbanspoon